Konami has yet again given control of the Castlevania series to MercurySteam. Not surprising given the success of the original, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
This sequel, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 stars the same protagonist from the previous game. Gabriel has transformed into the infamous vampire, Lord Dracula. It’s a bold move to let players take control of what would otherwise have ended up being the end boss in the typical Castlevania game.
Centuries have passed and Gabriel grows tired of his cursed immortality. It’s back to fighting after a brief warm up to gain some of his strength back(he had been out of action for centuries). The story is set up in relatively modern times with the vampire exploring both a city build within the grounds of his castle and his old castle. In order to do so, he makes use of a wolf to guide him between both worlds.
What is easy to notice initially is how it relies heavily on tutorials to the point that it feels like it’s imposing them upon players. In fact, these go on for far too long with tutorials still appearing after the initial used to teach the basics.
Weakened by his beauty sleep, Dracula has the misfortune of running into some powerful gorilla like enemies packing some serious fire power, in his very first proper outing back in the world. This means being forced to sneak around and hope that these guys don’t catch him or it inevitably results in failure.
Such a game mechanic never feels like it works properly despite the numerous times that it’s being used. Even more so as the excuse given makes it seem like Dracula needs to earn his powers back. Yet it’s never possible to defeat these enemies by making use of his powers. Instead Dracula can only possess them(necessary to open up areas) or temporarily distract them with the aid of some bats. There are also a few times where he can avoid these enemies by transforming into a rat(used in a few other places) in very specific dark areas.
On two occasions this idea is used in a slightly different way, but the dire outcome is still the same. It simply doesn’t work well because the player is given no chance to survive if discovered and that inevitably leads to frustration.
Annoyingly so, that also leads to the use of checkpoints which is shocking at times. It literally will mean losing quite a lot of progress at certain points, if Dracula has the misfortune of being defeated.
On the bright side, the actual fighting that takes place against other enemies is a lot more enjoyable. There are two special weapons earned with story progression and the Blood Whip main weapon. The special weapons consist of the Void Sword (can freeze and replenish health) and the Chaos Claws (break shields and throw fire).
Each of them has a magic bar and it’s only refilled in combat after hitting enemies enough times (without being hit) or at specific locations. It’s a novel idea that doesn’t work out too well in practice. For example, at one point the Chaos Claws fire power was required to lower a bridge. But the lack of enemies around to replenish the magic bar for it meant having to restart or do some serious backtracking.
The fighting is reminiscent of DmC – although perhaps a less advanced version of it. There are many types of enemies to face and each is weaker to a certain ability. It’s fun to try and find out how to handle each enemy. Even more so during boss battles which are easily some of the best moments in a title that suffers from poorly implemented ideas. Each of the bosses usually has different attack patterns and this makes it satisfying to try and overcome them.
This is still about exploration even if it is somewhat confusing at times. This is mainly due to the use of vague hints that means having to spend a fair amount of time attempting to find out where to go next. A hint that only appeared after restarting a checkpoint a couple of times was vital in getting through a particular challenge.
The use of the castle is fantastic and it truly feels like this is a proper Castlevania game. The city not so much and it more than often leaves the player longing for the far more mysterious dark corridors of the castle.
Every so often, the game attempts to introduce new elements like fairly simple puzzles. It’s a shame these don’t work so well. Some of these puzzles(like 1 involving a small jigsaw) are used so many times that it ends up making them more of a chore.
On a very few occasions there are moments where the game is outstanding (mainly involving the castle). Yet this makes it all the more difficult to get through the not so pleasant sections(likes ones involving stealth). It just feels like most of the game consists of ideas that never manage to develop properly.
There are plenty of collectibles and enhancements for abilities/health to find whilst exploring. It’s even necessary to gain some abilities before obtaining some of these. There are also different areas of the castle that only become available upon earning back powers like turning into mist (feels a lot like playing older Castlevania games).
The story itself is told quite well and although some twists are easy to see miles away – it manages to give players an opportunity to connect with this supposed villain. Visually, it’s impressive and is clearly making the most of the hardware it is on. Just a shame that the actual interaction isn’t so up to standards.
It’s tragic to see a sequel to such a well received title as the original Lords of Shadow end up being such an underwhelming experience. To the point that not even those few satisfying moments(mostly exploring the castle) are not enough to redeem it.
Lords of Shadow 2 is certainly diabolical, but it’s not because of its nefarious main character. And so Konami potentially sees off what was once one of its most promising reboots with this sad affair.
No wonder poor Gabriel is looking so glum.